Loving My Coworker As Myself

Some blog posts are written from a position of authority. Others, like this one, are written from a position of humility, because the author needs to learn from the post as much as anyone.

So far, I have covered several major themes that I will return to in the future:

  • Not only are there no small roles, but there are also no small actors.
  • If think a job is “unimportant,” that says more about our value system than the actual importance of that job.
  • No matter your job, you are doing God’s work if you are involved in the stewardship or restoration of God’s creation.

If you feel unappreciated, or if you wonder whether your work matters, I hope these ideas will encourage you. Today, however, I want to focus on someone else. You see, if these ideas are true about you and your own work, they’re also true about everyone you work with:

  • The coworker who just can’t seem to do anything right
  • The manager who never cuts you any slack
  • The executive who seems more concerned about his annual bonus than his employees

As well everyone else you encounter in your working day:

  • The annoying salesperson who won’t take no for an answer
  • Customers who take too long to make a decision
  • Vendors whose products don’t work as advertised

Each one of these people is made in the image of God, doing God’s work, in a role that just might be far more important than you realized.

The Two Greatest Commandments

Once Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment in God’s Law.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37–40)

For a number of reasons, it’s easy to forget basic Christian teachings like “Love God” and “love your neighbor” while at work. Most of us don’t work in explicitly Christian workplaces, even if most of the people around us might be Christians. As a result, we don’t usually express the work we do in Biblical terms or relate our daily work to the teachings of Jesus.[1]

Further, our daily work tends to focus on specific tasks or objectives to accomplish, rather than on loving God or even loving other people. Even when our work is centered on people, “love others as yourself” isn’t likely to be in our job description. If we’re going to remember to love God and love others, it’s up to us (and our friends in the faith) to remind us. Unless you work at a very unusual company, our managers aren’t going to ask us if we’ve been loving our neighbors during our annual review.[2]

Loving My Neighbor At Work

In a future post, I’ll write about loving God at work and through our work. This coming week, I’m going to commit to loving my neighbor as myself at my work. What will this look like? I’m turning to the words of Jesus and Paul for guidance.

I’m going to:

  • Let my ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ be ‘no’ (Matthew 5:37). I’m going to speak truthfully and clearly to everyone I deal with, even if the message isn’t one they want to hear. I struggle with being honest with others when I expect them to be disappointed in my words, simply because I want them to like me. That’s not a solid basis for a relationship, at work or anywhere else.
  • Go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41). In ancient Judea under the Roman empire, Roman soldiers could force Jewish locals to carry his pack for up to a mile. Imagine minding your own business, perhaps busy with your farm or market stall, and being forced to drop what your doing and carry a soldier’s pack for a mile. I imagine that, well, it would have been like many of the interruptions we encounter in our workday: annoying, time-consuming, difficult. Jesus told his disciples to (literally) go the extra mile, voluntarily exceeding what they were required to do by law. One of my coworkers is a great example of this. When there’s a problem he’s asked to fix, he goes the extra mile to see if there are any future problems that might be caused by the same issue, and he tried to address those at the same time.
  • Work with all my heart, as if I were working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Paul addressed this command to slaves, who had no choice but to obey their human masters. While it may not seem like we have a choice sometimes, we generally do: no one’s going to stop if we stand up and walk out on our job. There might be dire consequences, but most of us are still free to do so. Regardless, Paul’s point remains the same: don’t do your work for show, seeking “to curry favor” with your boss, but do the best job you can at all times.

These aren’t rules to be followed mechanically. For example, if someone asks me to bring them a cup of coffee, bringing them two cups wouldn’t be loving – it would just be weird. Instead, these are expressions of our love for our neighbor.

I expect it will sometimes be difficult to hold to these principles this week, because it’s hard – period – to love your neighbor as yourself. But if I’m not going to love my neighbor at work, where I spend nine hours a day sitting just a few feet from him, when will I love my neighbor?

  1. This is one reason why daily spiritual disciplines are so important – to help us conceive of our everyday life in godly ways. Regular Bible study, prayer, worship, fasting, and other disciplines create an order to our days, weeks, and months based on God rather than on the other factors calling for our attention.  ↩
  2. I even wonder how many churches and ministries ask their staff about this.  ↩

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